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DOMINIC LAWSON: Angela Merkel has suffered three striking defeats

DOMINIC LAWSON: Angela Merkel has suffered three striking defeats – what an omen for England vs Germany!

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How optimistic should England supporters be about tomorrow’s match against Germany in the knockout stage of the UEFA Euro 2020 Football Championship?

As we haven’t won against them in a ‘winner takes all’ match of any significance since the FIFA World Cup Final of 1966, apprehensiveness on the part of the home fans — this game, too, will be played at Wembley — is understandable.

But there are strange parallels between German leadership in Europe and the recent regression of its once all-conquering national football team, which might give encouragement, if you believe in political auguries.

This is heightened by the fact that the German football coach, Joachim Löw, and the country’s quadruple election winning Chancellor, Angela Merkel, are both standing down this year, having been in command for almost exactly the same — remarkably long — period.

There are strange parallels between German leadership in Europe and the recent regression of its once all-conquering national football team, heightened by the fact that the German football coach, Joachim Löw, and the country’s quadruple election winning Chancellor, Angela Merkel (pictured), are both standing down this year

Löw has been the national side’s boss since July 2006, while Merkel took the equivalent role in government only eight months earlier, in November 2005. Having led the German team to triumph in the 2014 World Cup, it has been a steady decline since then for Löw, with the result that he has already said he will quit at the end of the Euros, whatever the outcome.

Merkel, too, came to accept that her best days, politically, are behind her  and she will step down as Chancellor in September. And in her own final year in charge, she has suffered an unprecedented series of defeats on the European political field of play, as she sought, with much less success than previously, to impose German direction on the other 26 EU nations.

Irked

First, she tried to take advantage of the gap between Donald Trump’s election defeat and the arrival in the White House of Joe Biden to get the EU to agree a big investment deal with China, even as Beijing was destroying (contrary to pledges it had made) the last remnants of political freedoms in Hong Kong, and more witness reports emerged about what the U.S. Congress termed the ‘genocide’ of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang region.

But it was not just the incoming Democrats in Washington who were greatly irked when the deal was signed off by the EU Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, and its trade department director Sabine Weyand (both German). A diplomat from one of the other EU nations said that officials felt ‘steamrollered by the German engine inside the Commission’.

Löw (pictured) has been the national side’s boss since July 2006. Having led the German team to triumph in the 2014 World Cup, it has been a steady decline since then for Löw

The point is that Germany has especially close business links in China: as the former chief correspondent of Der Tagesspiegel noted: ‘Closing its Xinjiang factory would risk Volkswagen’s entire China business … every second VW worldwide is sold in the People’s Republic.’

But this German political and business steamroller was blocked in its apparently ineluctable progress when, last month, the EU parliament, citing China’s increasingly unacceptable breaches of human rights, voted in a landslide to refuse to ratify the vast China investment deal — probably to Berlin’s surprise, and certainly its embarrassment.

And in recent days, Angela Merkel has received another humiliating rebuff at the hands of smaller EU states — this time in connection with Russia.

The Eastern European member states, former satrapies of the Soviet bloc, were already enraged by Germany’s dogged determination to complete the Nord Stream 2 project — designed to send vast amounts of Russian gas directly to Germany through a subsea pipeline, bypassing such other nations as Ukraine (whose Crimean territory was annexed by Moscow in 2014). The project’s chairman is the former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who preposterously but predictably defends Vladimir Putin as ‘a crystal-clear democrat’.

It was not just the incoming Democrats in Washington who were greatly irked when the deal was signed off by the EU Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen (pictured), and its trade department director Sabine Weyand (both German)

A few days ago, Merkel, backed by the French President Emmanuel Macron, suddenly sprung a plan for the EU to hold a collective summit with Putin (such initiatives had been frozen since the annexation of Crimea). She clearly underestimated the fury this would engender among the Kremlin’s erstwhile Eastern European satellites, who immediately rejected the proposal with unconstrained vehemence at last week’s EU heads of government meeting.

Their view was starkly summed up by the former president of Estonia (from 2006-2016), Toomas Hendrik Ilves: ‘Once again Germany wears blinders on its own past and, without consultation, forges ahead on a new relationship with a murderous regime, disregarding Germany’s other victims in Eastern Europe.’

Guilt

This rhetorical bombshell needs a little explanation. The point is that the German political establishment feels a pervasive guilt about the fact that its country had invaded the USSR (exactly 80 years ago) and caused the deaths of an estimated 14 million people there. So the German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, publicly justified the gas deal with Putin as a sort of expiation for the events of 1941.

This completely enrages not just Ukraine but also EU countries such as Poland, whose people had themselves suffered unimaginable horrors at the hands of the Nazi invaders — as well as enduring massacres carried out on Stalin’s orders.

Given that Putin has publicly defended the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, which carved up Eastern Europe between the two dictatorships, it should not have come as a surprise to Merkel that those countries would be outraged by her sudden attempt to corral them all into making nice with the poisoner in the Kremlin.

The Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in a clear rebuke to the German demand, said: ‘We should not adopt a logic of new restrictions but instead accelerate the vaccinations’

As the German Green Party spokes-person on Europe, Franziska Brantner, observed: ‘Thanks to Nord Stream 2, Germany has lost all credibility as a representative of European interests. Some EU member states really wonder whether the German government is acting in the interests of Europe or just those of German business.’

And now we have what seems like a third EU rebuff to Merkel — one which will be followed closely by voters here. She, and Macron, are now trying to get the whole EU to follow their policy, which is to insist that anyone visiting from the UK should go into quarantine.

But given the UK has only just restored a range of popular destinations in the EU for our holidaymakers, such as the Balearics and Malta, by putting them on the ‘green list’, southern European countries are vigorously resisting Merkel’s demand (‘In Germany, if you come from Great Britain, you have to go into quarantine — and that’s not the case in every European country, and that’s what I would like to see.’)

Incompetent

Politicians in such EU countries as Spain and Portugal point out that, unlike Germany, they are hugely reliant on revenues from British tourists. And the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in a clear rebuke to the German demand, said: ‘We should not adopt a logic of new restrictions but instead accelerate the vaccinations.’ It didn’t need saying that Merkel had been instrumental in making vaccination an EU-wide programme, with the serially incompetent Ursula von der Leyen at the helm.

Yesterday I raised all these incidents with Sir Paul Lever, a former British ambassador to Germany and author of Berlin Rules, a book which convincingly argued that the EU had become, institutionally, captured by Berlin.

The England team will take advantage of a German side in temporary decline, without need of extra time: still less a penalty shootout. Otherwise it might be a pleasant, if fleeting, improvement in fortunes for that passionate football fan, Angela Merkel

He agreed: ‘Yes, these are three striking defeats for Angela Merkel. She seems to have lost her tactical touch. Whether this represents a permanent diminution of Germany’s dominant role in the EU is harder to judge.’

England football supporters must hope that Germany’s chief coach, Joachim Löw, has also lost his tactical touch, at exactly the same time.

But Sir Paul also pointed out to me that ‘economics matter, and there is no sign of Germany’s economic strength faltering.’

Similarly, and without wishing to trade too much in national stereotyping, methodical German efficiency on the football field seems to manifest itself most when it comes to that most plan-able eventuality in the tightest games: the penalty shootout.

With any luck, just as the other EU countries have recently defeated Berlin’s ploys without recourse to one of those interminable late-night haggling sessions, the England team will take advantage of a German side in temporary decline, without need of extra time: still less a penalty shootout.

Otherwise it might be a pleasant, if fleeting, improvement in fortunes for that passionate football fan, Angela Merkel.

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